At one time, you could see dolphins performing in tanks in towns across the UK from Brighton and Margate, to Morecambe and Rhyl.
That all changed towards the end of the 1980s and finally ended on 8th of March,1993 when Flamingoland in Yorkshire closed its dolphinarium.
That’s why this International Women’s Day we’re celebrating a woman who was at the heart of this change and who is still fighting for whales and dolphins across the world.
I had a chat with Margaux Dodds, co-founder of Marine Connection and chair of Dolphinaria Free Europe, about her role in ending dolphin captivity in the UK.
Margaux’s first experience with cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) was as a child watching Flipper on the television. Her family visited Marineland in Canada on holiday and Margaux remembers watching the orca show and thinking the animals were amazing.
It wasn’t until a few years later, on a trip to Ireland, that Margaux encountered a lone, wild dolphin known as Fungie.
Seeing Fungie in the sea, free in his natural environment, was a game-changer and completely changed the direction of Margaux’s life.
When Margaux returned to London where she was living at the time, she was determined to do something to help the dolphins trapped in captivity in the UK. Aware of a number of protests, Margaux joined the one at Windsor Safari Park – alongside Marine Connection co-founder, Liz Sandeman. Regardless of the weather, they were outside Windsor Safari Park every weekend and bank holiday with banners and leaflets to give to visitors about the dolphin shows there.
Margaux Dodds with fellow campaigners at Windsor Safari Park in the 1980s
On occasion, zoo staff would steal their leaflets – one time they even sprayed the protesters with elephant dung. Despite this Margaux made lifelong friends there. She emphasises that there weren’t mobile phones and there was no social media, just a dedicated group of campaigners determined to see an end to dolphin captivity.
Margaux campaigned outside Windsor Safari Park for four years. I asked how she managed to keep going over that time and she said,
‘It was the dolphins that did it – when you’re standing outside and you’re free, and you know that they are so close and they are not free – that’s the drive.’
Margaux recalls the ‘most amazing memory’ when she arrived at the venue for a protest and the gates were chained. The shows at Windsor were over.
In the early 1990s, three dolphins from closing UK dolphinaria – Missie and Silver from Brighton Aquarium, and Rocky from Marineland in Morecambe – were actually taken to a sea pen in Turks & Caicos from which they were released. Margaux was on the tarmac as Rocky’s plane took off to return him to the wild.
Sadly, the dolphins from Windsor Safari Park were sold to Dolphinarium Hardewijk in the Netherlands and those from the last venue – Flamingoland – were sold to Kὅlmarden, a dolphinarium in Sweden. Thirty years later, two of those dolphins still remain at Hardewijk. Juno is now 39 years old, and Apollo is 34.
Although there are no longer any dolphin venues in the UK, they are not actually banned. In the UK, travel companies still promote and sell tickets to venues overseas. There are over 3,000 dolphins in captivity around the world, living in barren tanks thousands of times smaller than their natural range, purely for tourist entertainment.
As long as there are people visiting these venues, dolphins will be bred or caught from the wild to meet demand. We need travel companies like TUI Group to stop selling and promoting dolphin venues, making cruel dolphin captivity seem more acceptable.
We talk about the travel industry and their role in keeping the captive dolphin entertainment industry going. Margaux sums it up:
‘As long as they keep doing what they’re doing, we’ll be here doing what we’re doing.’